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In motorsport, ‘pole position’ is the place at the front of the starting grid which offers the racer occupying it the best possible start to the race. Here they will not only be in front of rival racers but also in the best position for the first corner, whether on an oval circuit or unique track.

More often than not, pole position is awarded to the racer who has proved themselves either in practice sessions or previous rounds. Sometimes however, pole position can be the result of a lucky draw if race organisers have a policy of really mixing things up.

Nigel Mansell isn't short of a T5 or two
Nigel Mansell isn’t short of a T5 or two

Whatever the competition, be it two wheels, four or more, the first battle for the racers is to win pole position.

A trophy was announced in 2014 for the Formula 1 World Championship series, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile awarding the FIA Pole Trophy to the driver who won the most pole positions in a season. In 2018 the trophy was renamed the Pirelli Pole Position Award, thanks to the Italian tyre manufacturer sponsoring it.

But this wasn’t the first Pole Position Trophy to be awarded in Formula 1, with one in the 1980s lending its name to a scooter…

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Vespa T5 – Pole Position

Yes, if you haven’t worked it out by now, the Vespa PX125E T5 (to give it it’s full name) wore the Pole Position name too as a result of Piaggio’s sponsorship involvement with Formula 1. Piaggio’s relationship with the sport can be traced back to when Umberto Agnelli from the family behind the Fiat empire married the Piaggio family heiress, Donna Antonella Bechi in 1959. In 1969 Fiat bought a 50% stake in Ferrari and is apparently the only team to have competed in the Formula One World Championship since its inception in 1950.

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Ferrari & Vespa

Formula 1 fans may already know about various links between the two famous Italian brands. For example, Scuderia Ferrari driver Gilles Villeneuve (above) wore Vespa and Piaggio sponsors logos on his overalls in 1981 and 1982, as did teammate Didier Pironi who finished second in the 1982 driver’s championship.

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Vespa Pole Position Trophy

Anyway, in 1984, drivers who achieved Pole Position would have won a trophy and a brand new scooter from Piaggio by way of the Piaggio Vespa Pole Position Trophy. Photographic evidence suggests that both PK and P-range scooters were awarded as prizes.

Bloody hell Nelson, how many scooters do we need in the garage?!”

In 1984 Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet (above) won nine Pole Positions, the most that year, resulting in not only winning nine Vespas but also a deal with Piaggio to put his name to a range of branded Vespa accessories.

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It’ll never catch on…

In 1985 Piaggio continued the sponsorship, but this time they had a brand new scooter to promote; the new Vespa T5 Pole Position! From a marketing point of view, it was the perfect marriage; a worldwide top-level motorsport considered the most important by many spectators, and a new sports scooter that was faster than any 125cc Vespa before it.

If you're looking for T5 spares, Ayrton Senna was your man
If you’re looking for T5 spares, Ayrton Senna was your man

Now L-plated scooterboys in the UK and 16-year-old Italian kids could legally tear around their respective countries at a decent speed, and maybe pretend they were Ayrton Senna too, for it was that Brazilian driver who took the most Pole Positions in 1985; seven in total. Now that’s a lot of T5s to have in one garage…

Words: Andy Gillard – ScooterNova magazine

Pole Position photos and T5 leaflets courtesy of Piaggio & Co.

Didier Pirono – Hans van Dijk

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Read more on the history of the T5

An extended article on the 35th anniversary of the Vespa T5, along with rare archive images, history, interviews and some tuning tips can be found in the current edition 18 of ScooterNova magazine. It’s available to buy online now from the SLUK shop for delivery direct to your door. A years subscription only costs £30, treat yourself here. 

Vespa T5 brochures and Formula One history

SLUK Shop – leaders, not followers

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